Nearly 60% of all seabird species have plastic in their guts, according to new research findings published in the journal PNAS.
The research, which utilized a number of published studies dating back to the early 60s, found a broad trend of rapid increase in seabird exposure to plastic pollution — in 1960 plastic was found in the guts of under 5% of seabirds studied, while that figure rested at 80% in 2010 (80% of the individuals studied, 60% of the species).
The new work predicts that this figure will rise to 99% of the world’s seabird species by 2050.
It’s estimated that as of 2015 90% of all seabird individuals have eaten plastic or some kind — plastic bags, synthetic fibers, bottle caps, etc. When ingested, these materials cause significant problems, and can lead to the death of the bird.
“For the first time, we have a global prediction of how wide-reaching plastic impacts may be on marine species — and the results are striking. We predict, using historical observations, that 90% of individual seabirds have eaten plastic. This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution,” stated Dr Chris Wilcox, a senior research scientist at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere.
“Finding such widespread estimates of plastic in seabirds is borne out by some of the fieldwork we’ve carried out where I’ve found nearly 200 pieces of plastic in a single seabird,” commented Dr Denise Hardesty.
The greatest impact appears to be in the Souther Ocean, around the edges of Australia, South America, and South Africa.
“We are very concerned about species such as penguins and giant albatrosses, which live in these areas,” stated researcher Erik van Sebille. “While the infamous garbage patches in the middle of the oceans have strikingly high densities of plastic, very few animals live here.”
The researchers posit that improvements in waste management could perhaps put a dent Jon the growing problem.
“Improving waste management can reduce the threat plastic is posing to marine wildlife. Even simple measures can make a difference. Efforts to reduce plastics losses into the environment in Europe resulted in measurable changes in plastic in seabird stomachs with less than a decade, which suggests that improvements in basic waste management can reduce plastic in the environment in a really short time.”
With regard to plastic debris large enough to intentionally be ingested by seabirds at any rate, micro-plastics are another issue entirely.